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The extraordinary anti-Nazi legislation in postwar Austria – a special way of coping with war crimes and crimes against humanities

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Abstract

The presentation deals with the methods of the Austrian legislation after the end of the nazi terror regime. Austria was liberated by the Allies who installed an occupation regime with it´ s own legislation. Besides however, they accepted as well a self-contained government and jurisprudence. Already in May and June 1945, the tentative Austrian government passed two extraordinary laws to punish nazi crimes, the Nazi Banning Law (Verbotsgesetz) and the War Criminals Law (Kriegsverbrechergesetz). The latter included paragraphs for instance dealing with command responsibility or the violation of human dignity, which were very innovative at that time. Responsibility for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals who committed offences as specified in the Nazi Banning Law and in the War Criminals Law were passed over to a special jurisdiction, the "People''s Trials" (Volksgerichte). Between 1945 and 1955 thousands of Austrian National Socialists were sentenced by these courts. Legal proceedings against 137,000 people were instituted due to suspicions that they had committed crimes according to two special laws. More than 28,000 people were brought to trial, among these 48% (that is 13,600 people) were sentenced. It is to be analyzed how and in which dimension this kind of justice was an appropriate measure to implement democracy and rule of law in Austria. In addition it is to be examined in what extent these methods could be a role model for coming to terms with war crimes and crimes against humanity in present.